So Friday is the first day of the final month of the NBA's regular season. And looking at the standings, it's been largely a chalk season thus far. The top four teams in the East are Cleveland, Toronto, Atlanta and Miami. All expected. The only newcomer to the top four from last year's final standings is the Heat; they have taken the place of the ultra-disappointing Chicago Bulls. In the West, you have a top four of Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clippers. Completely expected there. Thus the only drama remaining in the final couple of weeks would be the final two spots at the bottom of each conference. Those winners will then be ousted easily the first round of the playoffs.
76ers at Hornets (-15, 208)
Second of a home-and-home between these two. Charlotte won in Philadelphia 100-85 on Tuesday to lead 3-0 in the season series. Nicolas Batum had 19 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his second triple-double of the season. Jeremy Lin got the night off with a sore back. It was the Hornets' 13th win in March, a team record for any month. The 76ers lost for the 23rd time in 24 games and played without Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes.
Key trends: The favorite is 7-3 against the spread in the past 10 meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in Charlotte's past four at home overall.
Early lean: I've said it before that it's tough to sweep these home-and-home series. I don't see Philly winning here but take the points.
Mavericks at Pistons (-5, 207)
Dallas beat the visiting Knicks 91-89 on Wednesday. J.J. Barea had 26 points, including the go-ahead layup with 49.9 seconds remaining. Deron Williams sat out again for Dallas, which means more minutes for Barea. Dirk Nowitzki was just 5-for-23 but did move into 30th place in the league's all-time rebounding list. Detroit beat Oklahoma City 88-82 on Tuesday. Marcus Morris had 24 points. This is the finale of Detroit's franchise-record nine-game homestand. The Pistons are 6-2 on it. Detroit beat Dallas 102-96 on March 9. But the Mavericks have won four straight and six of the last seven matchups in Motown.
Key trends: The Mavericks are 5-2 ATS in their past seven in Detroit. The over is 7-3 in the Pistons' past 10 home games.
Early lean: Pistons and over.
Nets at Knicks (TBA)
Brooklyn was in Cleveland on Thursday and resting Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. So I would imagine they play here? New York lost a third in a row Wednesday, 91-89 in Dallas. Star rookie Kristaps Porzingis missed the game with a shoulder injury and was to have an MRI on Thursday. So you surely aren't seeing him here and there's a pretty good chance Porzingis will be shut down. Knicks starting point guard Jose Calderon left with a quad injury, so he's probably out a while. New York won the first meeting at home vs. Brooklyn in December but lost both at the Nets.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The over has hit in all four.
Early lean: Wait on all these guys.
Cavaliers at Hawks (TBA)
First of an ESPN doubleheader and will feature live betting at sportsbooks. Cleveland hosted Brooklyn on Thursday, so you might be on sit-down alert here for a key Cavs player or two. I'd frankly be surprised if at least one starter doesn't sit. Kyrie Irving and/or J.R. Smith were potentially to sit Thursday as both were ill. This is Cleveland's first trip to Atlanta since Game 2 of last season's Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks' four-game winning streak ended in a 105-97 defeat in Toronto on Wednesday. Atlanta turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 25 Raptors points. These teams have played just once this season, a 109-97 Cavs home win back on Nov. 21.
Key trends: The Cavs are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 9-3 in the previous 12.
Early lean: I like Atlanta SU here because I know the Cavs will sit someone and Hawks likely won't.
Raptors at Grizzlies (+4.5, 198.5)
Every current franchise in the NBA had won at least 50 games in a season once other than Toronto. The Raptors finally joined that group with a 105-97 home win over Atlanta on Wednesday. DeMar DeRozan scored 26 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 19 points and nine rebounds and Kyle Lowry 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. Starting forward Luis Scola missed the game with a sore right knee. Memphis dropped a fourth in a row Wednesday, 109-105 at home to Denver. Zach Randolph was questionable but did play and had 26 points. Toronto beat Memphis 98-85 on Feb. 21. The Grizzlies shot just 3-for-20 from 3-point range.
Key trends: Memphis is 7-0 ATS in its past seven Friday games. The under is 14-2 in Toronto's past 16 vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Raptors and under.
Magic at Bucks (TBA)
Orlando was in Indiana on Thursday and expecting Nik Vucevic to return. He may not play the second of a back-to-back, however. Milwaukee ended a five-game losing streak with a 105-94 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday. Khris Middleton scored nine of his 26 points in the final 7:31. The Bucks had 27 points off Suns turnovers. Milwaukee guard Greivis Vasquez returned after missing 56 games with an ankle injury. He played 12 minutes. Fellow guard Jerryd Bayless suffered a mild hyperextension of his right knee in the first half and did not return. These teams have split two meetings, each winning at home. The Magic have lost six of the last seven at the Bradley Center.
Key trends: The Magic are 12-5 ATS in the past 17 meetings. The under is 5-1 in Milwaukee's past six at home.
Early lean: Like Bucks SU here regardless of Bayless.
Timberwolves at Jazz (TBA)
Minnesota lost 99-79 at home to the Clippers on Wednesday. "That was the worst game we've played all year," coach Sam Mitchell said after. Zach LaVine, who really had been playing well, was scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting. Andrew Wiggins left the game midway through the third quarter after taking a shot to the face. He likely could have returned but there was no need with the game a rout. Utah really should have and deserved to beat Golden State on Wednesday but lost 103-96 in overtime. The Jazz led most of the fourth quarter -- but missed 10 of 14 free throws in the quarter -- before the Warriors tied it late. Shelvin Mack had a potential winner blocked in the final 10 seconds of regulation and Gordon Hayward missed a potential winner in that sequence too. Derrick Favors left the game in the third quarter with right knee soreness and did not return. He's questionable here. Utah leads the season series 2-1 and the Wolves haven't topped 94 points in any of those games. The visiting team has won seven of the last 10 games.
Key trends: The Wolves are 5-1 ATS in their past six in Utah. The under is 8-2 in the Jazz's past 10 overall.
Early lean: Think Jazz will be totally flat after that near-miss vs. Warriors. Take whatever points are given.
Heat at Kings (+7.5, 214)
Miami somehow lost 102-100 in overtime at the bickering Lakers on Wednesday. Dwyane Wade had 26 points and 10 rebounds, Luol Deng 22 points and 11 boards and Hassan Whiteside 18 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. Goran Dragic returned from missing a game with an illness and had 11 points and nine assists. The Heat missed 11 of their 26 free throws. Sacramento beat Washington 120-111 on Wednesday. DeMarcus Cousins had 29 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four blocks but got a stupid technical with just a few seconds left in the game. That was his 16th of the season, meaning an automatic suspension for this game. Miami has won 13 of the past 14 meetings vs. the Kings and took a 116-109 home decision on Nov. 19.
Key trends: The Kings are 4-0 ATS in their past four games. The over is 6-1 in Miami's past seven road games.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Celtics at Warriors (-11.5, 226.5)
Second ESPN game and will feature live betting. Shame Boston is playing the second of a back-to-back as it was in Portland on Thursday. C's are good enough to potentially pull the upset here if at full rest. Golden State rallied for a 103-96 OT win in Utah on Wednesday. Klay Thompson hit the late tying 3-pointer in regulation and Steph Curry had six straight OT points. Now it's a formality that the Warriors break the Bulls' record of 72 regular-season wins as they only need go 5-2 in the final seven to do it. Golden State was pushed to the limit on Dec. 11 in Boston, winning 124-119 in double overtime. That game was terrific, I remember it well. The Warriors have won five straight vs. the Celtics, tying a franchise record set when the team was in Philly.
Key trends: The Warriors are 2-5 ATS in their past seven overall. The under is 6-1 in their past seven overall.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Wizards at Suns (+6, 214.5)
Washington's playoff hopes took a huge hit with a 120-111 loss in Sacramento on Wednesday, but the Wizards were clearly deflated entering that game after playing well in Golden State the night before. John Wall was just 4-for-16 from the field vs. the Kings. Phoenix lost a fourth in a row Wednesday, 105-94 in Milwaukee. Brandon Knight had 17 points in his first trip to Milwaukee since being traded by the Bucks to the Suns in February 2015. Mirza Teletovic missed the game with a stomach illness. Washington beat Phoenix 109-106 on Dec. 4. The Wizards also have won two of the last three in Phoenix.
Key trends: The Suns are 3-8 ATS in their past 11 vs. the East. The under is 5-0-1 in the past six meetings between these two.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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